The FIA European Rally Championship 2020 finally got underway last month. First off was Rally di Roma Capitale. The Italian tarmac event event was won by 2018 champion, Alexey Lukyanuk in a Citroen C3 R5. Eighty-seven crews entered including Irish men Craig Breen and Calum Devine, both in Hyundai i20 R5’s. Breen finished fourth after struggling with the performance of his sponsors MRF tyres on day one of the two-day rally. No such luck for Devine, his i20 ground to a halt with engine failure early on.
Italian star, twice ERC champ and winner last year, Giandomenico Basso was second and Oliver Solberg third in their respective VW Polo GTI R5’s. Interestingly Solberg (co-driven as usual by Tyrone’s Aaron Johnston) lost his glasses before the start but carried on and said he thought he drove better without them!
The ERC calendar features just six events in total. The next round is Rally Liepeja, Latvia running from 14-16 August. Check out the ERC website for full details.
The 2020 World Rally Championship is scheduled to restart next month. At the moment 6 further rounds are on the provisional calendar detailed below. The first three rounds were completed before the series was halted due to the coronavirus pandemic back in March.
- Round 4: Estonia................September 4-6
- Round 5: Turkey..................September 18-20
- Round 6: Ypres (Belgium)...October 2-4
- Round 7: Germany..............October 15-18
- Round 8: Italy......................October 29-November 1
- Round 9: Japan..................November 19-22
Whether the above events actually run is of course dependent on the situation in those particular countries regarding the Coronavirus pandemic. It hasn’t gone away you know!
Donegal Stages Best in British Isles!
In a survey recently carried out through social media by Motorsport News magazine to find the best rally stages in the UK and Ireland, three of those used on the Donegal International Rally were in the top eight. Hamilton’s Folly in County Down which has been used on both the Circuit of Ireland and the Ulster Rally is also on the list.
In all 32 stages made it to a shortlist which was then whittled down to the final eight. Of these only one was a Welsh gravel test, the rest Irish closed road tarmac stages. This should add fuel to the debate for the future destination of a British Isles WRC round. Can Ireland be ignored? These are the elite eight chosen by the public vote;
THE EIGHT BEST RALLY STAGES IN THE UK AND IRELAND
- Sweet Lamb Hafren.......Mid Wales (Gravel)
- Atlantic Drive..................Donegal
- High Glen.......................Donegal
- Molls Gap.......................Killarney
- Healy Pass.....................Killarney
- Hamilton’s Folly.............Co.Down
- Ring...............................West Cork
40 Years Ago......1980
No Ulster Rally this year of course, but back in 1980 Dessie McCartney was the winner in his newly acquired Vauxhall Chevette HSR. Neil Boulton and myself were covering various time controls on the Belfast Telegraph sponsored event. In between times I remember trying to navigate Neil as he flew round Northern Ireland piloting his little Suzuki SC 100 GX in an effort to see as many stages as we could.
On stage three near Dungannon, McCartney got a puncture and stopped right where we were spectating. He couldn’t get the jack to work on the Chevette, so we and others lifted the car while the crew changed the wheel. Neil then lent a grateful Dessie the jack from his rare Suzuki coupe. Thankfully it wasn’t needed and we got it back when the rally finished at the Kings Arms Hotel in Larne.
McCartney dropped outside the top ten following that time consuming puncture. He then proceeded to set fastest stage times and went on to win because Jimmy McRae, who was leading at the time in a similar HSR, fell off the road and got stuck in a bog on SS17 Orra Bridge. Derek Boyd was 31 seconds back in second while Robin Lyons finished third, both were in Sunbeams. The 1980 Ulster Rally had total of 25 stages covering 5 counties, starting and finishing in Larne within a 24 hour period.
30 Years Ago......1990
David Llewellin was the victor by two minutes in the British Midland Ulster Rally driving his Toyota Celica GT4. Conditions were very wet from the start which suited the four-wheel-drive car. Bertie Fisher and Graham Middleton were second and third respectively in their BMW M3’s. There were 21 stages covering all six Northern Ireland counties. Of the 67 starters only 42 made it to the Belfast finish. We were timekeeping as usual over the two days.
Derek McGarrity won the Mourne Rally in a rear-wheel-drive Nissan engined Peugeot 205. Co-driven by Ian Beasant, the pair were 37 seconds ahead of second placed Mervyn Hill and Kevin Shaw in their Escort Mk.2 while David Greer/Mark Crowe brought their Toyota Corolla home in third. This event was yet another outing for us BRMC timekeepers.
20 Years Ago......2000
The 21st running of the North Armagh MC’s Lurgan Park Rally proved to be one of the best in its history. I first attended the event in 1981 as a marshal and then our club was asked to provide marshals the following year. We were involved every year since until the final event in 2016.
In August 2000 some twenty five of us covered 10 fire points as well as mid point rescue and some radio points. Around 13,000 spectators attended the popular SEAT sponsored event. Kenny McKinstry eventually won his ninth Lurgan Park Rally in a Subaru 555. Pre-event favourite Gwyndaf Evans was the early leader but had to retire his SEAT Córdoba WRC with prop-shaft failure. Then Derek McGarrity took over in front for one stage but spectacularly rolled his new Subaru WRC out of the event.
Denis Biggerstaff was second in the fabulous MG Metro 6R4 while Frank Meagher finished third in his Ford Escort WRC. The “drive of the rally” went to Belgian Patrick Snijers. Following a first stage spin he was down in ninth place in his underpowered McKinstry hired Subaru 555. He then set about climbing up the leaderboard and finished fourth after setting fastest time on the eighth and final stage. Snijers was flying and on the limit much to the delight of the huge crowd. Evans got the Córdoba repaired in time for a Challenge Time Trial after the main event which he dominated and lifted a cheque for £6,000 which SEAT then donated to a local charity. McKinstry got £4,000 for the rally win.
10 Years Ago......2010
Derek McGarrity and James McKee won the toddsleap.com Ulster Rally in a Subaru Impreza S12C WRC. Although Derek had won the Circuit of Ireland four times and was Irish Tarmac Champion on three occasions, this was his first Ulster win. The Glengormley driver revelled in his local event, the stages were all in Co.Antrim. It wasn’t easy for McGarrity, Gareth McHale’s Focus finished second only 1.1 seconds down after the 14 stages. This was the closest finish in the rally’s thirty five year history. There were only FOUR competitors in the WRC Ulster Rally.
In the International Rally Northern Ireland section, there were 42 cars. This category was dominated by Craig Breen and Gareth Roberts in their Ford Fiesta S2000. Second was Keith Cronin in a Group N Subaru while Alastair Fisher was third in his Evo.9. Citroen debut its brand new DS3 R3 in the hands of Brian Bouffier, he was fifth.
George Robinson won the 37 car National Rally in his Subaru Impreza P2000 WRC, but only after Declan McNaughton crashed his Escort Mk.2 on the final stage. Second was Fintan McGrady’s Mk.2 and Sean Haveron took third in his Escort Cosworth.
In the Historic Rally there were 45 starters and the winner here was Manxman Connor Corkill in his Escort Mk.2. Ray Cunningham won category one in his Mini Cooper S and David Stokes was the fastest in category two.
We were timekeeping, covering rescue and radio points on the 2010 Ulster Rally. The weather was surprisingly dry for the two days which made our jobs a lot easier. Alastair Cochran and Gary McElhinney in a Mk.2 had a huge crash at the final corner of the Langford Lodge stage. We saw it all from our flying finish location. Thankfully no one was injured. Other competitors had big scary moments at the extremely slippery bend.
Sat. 15th August.
Cam Trophy Rally Time Trial
The first rally event in Northern Ireland since lockdown will be this event organised by Omagh Motor Club. Held behind closed doors. No spectators are allowed. A limited number of marshals are required but they must sign on online two weeks before the event. Chief Marshal, Barry Arundell will contact you if he needs your help. Based at Cam Quarry, 39 Cam Road, Macosquin, Coleraine. Expect either a very dusty dry day or it could even be a wet one!